"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
You can find more of my reviews (plus discussions and giveaways) at Christina Reads YA.
1. (+) Dru, the protagonist - Dru is what kept this book somewhat entertaining for me. She's got some attitude, I tell you. She's one of the types of heroines who I've wanted to read more about. Practical, but spirited, loving, strong (“Better to be strong than pretty and useless”), crude, harsh, decisive ("bullying" but willing to do what's needed), snarky, needy, conflicted. She burps unapologetically, practices her katas for tai chi, sometimes accompanies her father on his hunts, and knows how to handle knives and guns and uncontrollable situations without losing her head (though she does have moments of pure, raw, aching vulnerability, such as when she's grieving over her father). And she does something early on that I think makes it nearly impossible not to feel something for her.
2. (+) World-building - This is one of those series that takes the old concepts of vampires and werewolves (plus some other freaky, freaky creatures) and spins them into something completely new. There's a familiar and popular myth that fans of another popular YA PNR series will immediately recognize with regards to the vampires and how that'll propel the series plot, but it too is reinvented in a fresh way. There's a hierarchy among the vampires ("suckers") in terms of power and strength, desire and magical abilities, and one among the wulfen (werewolves) with similar constrictions as well. There is a bit of tension between the two races, but they also do have their moments of agreement, and I imagine the politics between the two would be interesting to explore in the later books. Plus, it's interesting to note how Ms. St. Crow added in gender dynamics. And there's also a lot of other world-building in little details about Dru's assignments with her father, his contacts and missions, and the knowledge that Dru already possesses of The Real World, full of creatures that go bump in the night.
3. (+/-) The Beginning - 25% of the way through the book, and only three events have happened. The rest of the space is taken up by narration from Dru, which, while fun to read, I started to skim because I wanted more action, more intrigue, more suspense. To combat this effect, other books similar to Strange Angels usually include the introduction of multiple new characters, but the character cast was rather small, and I later wondered whether this was just an introductory book.
4. (+) Romance - This book gets major props not only for including a PoC (half-Asian) romantic love interest but also not making him the-most-beautiful-thing ever. A lot of PNRs emphasize an otherworldly beauty, but thankfully, Goth, skull earring touter Graves is not like that. I actually quite liked the various descriptions of him, and that Dru outright admits that Graves is not pretty now, but might be in a few years, when he's no longer quite as beaky and lanky (realistic, huh?). While there's not a whole lot of romantic action - just the promise of it, I think - it's still nice to see their friendship grow. Graves doesn't quite fully interest me just yet. He's very nice, loyal, supportive, but some of his actions didn't quite match for me (if he's so ambitious, why does he let Dru drag him down? why doesn't he ever get angry?). (Side note: I'm also seeing a potential love triangle in the future, but am choosing to ignore that aspect.)
5. (+/-) The Plot - I don't know, maybe it's a function of my having read a bunch of other YA novels like this, but I predicted most of what happened. Unpredictability is not always necessary - in YA, it's rare to come across a book that's unpredictable - but usually there's something else to compensate, like more action or more world-building. There's definitely that of the latter in the plot twists, so while I predicted the general gist of what would happen, I didn't know the details just yet. But without a whole lot actually happening and few other characters to distract from that, I couldn't find it in myself to care much about those details. (Kind of felt like there just weren't enough scenes in this novel).
6. (+/-) Exposition & Info-dumps - You learn ~ 80% of the information on the world-building from other people or from Dru's inner monologue / narration. Here's an example (~10% in Kindle app): "I’m probably the only sixteen-year-old girl in a three-hundred-mile radius who knows how to distinguish a poltergeist from an actual ghost (hint: If you can disrupt it with nitric acid, or if it throws new crap at you every time, it’s a poltergeist), or how to tell if a medium’s real or faking it (poke ’em with a true-iron needle). I know the six signs of a good occult store (Number One is the proprietor bolts the door before talking about Real Business) and the four things you never do when you’re in a bar with other people who know about the darker side of the world (don’t look weak). I know how to access public information and talk my way around clerks in courthouses (a smile and the right clothing work wonders). I also know how to hack into newspaper files, police reports, and some kinds of government databases (primary rule: Don’t get caught. Duh)." I love her voice, but having too, too much narration like this is one of my pet peeves in YA, especially when I wanted more plot. There are a few action scenes to show Dru at her best, but otherwise there was a whole lot of telling.
7. (+) Familial Relationships - It's not a spoiler to point out what happens to her Dad (synopsis!), and yet what kept me from feeling like it was a combination of the disappearing parent syndrome and absent-parent-due-to-grief trope was Dru's own grief over her father's death and her memories not only of his training but also of her grandmother. Their conversations, everything about the way Dru remembers her childhood - they were one of the more touching and real familial relationships that I'd read about, and I loved all the mentions because they made the characters feel alive, even if they were only in Dru's head.
8. (+/-) The Writing - Although Dru's voice is well done and the descriptions are usually very thorough, I had little idea of what was going on during the action scenes. Something started to happen, but was resolved without my full understanding of why or how. The writing also got repetitive at times. There are a couple of points in the narration that get brought up maybe four times before Dru acts.
9. (+/-) The Pacing - It does build up to a climax, but quite honestly I felt bored in the middle because there didn't seem to be as much tension. Some things are still happening... but it lacked the driving force that would normally propel me towards the ending with anticipation. Things happen, and then there are blank stages when the narration seems to come up in long spells until the next event occurs many pages later - the pacing seemed uneven to me, but that is not what other reviews have said. Also, the climax is kind of short compared to all the build-up and revelations.
10. (+/-) The Cover - I feel the same way about this cover as I do about the rest of the book.Dru has a fantastic voice - she's quite the refreshing heroine in YA UF/PNR - but that and the creativity of the world wasn't enough for me.
Although I understand why was promoted in the back of my Vampire Academy paperbacks, prologue excerpt printed and all, I can't help but feel that this just wasn't as exciting for me as it could have been. Your experience may be different, so I'd urge you to peruse some other reviews as well.